Saturday, December 20

Brickell, Miami

We're back in the good ol' US of A now.  After arriving in port early this morning, we had a nice final breakfast in the ship's dining room and leisurely got ready.  Customs is so easy when arriving by cruise ship.  There was no inspection at all.  A customs officer looked at my passport and declarations sheet and thanked me.

From there, we walked across the bridge into downtown Miami and took the free Metromover tram to Brickell, which has a pretty cool village-feel to it.  I had to make a sizable deposit at Wells Fargo (I made several fee-free withdrawals at the ship's casino to garner rewards points on my credit card).  Now we are hanging out at Starbucks until the Megabus leaves at 4:40 PM.

I'll post more about the cruise later.  We had a fabulous time and I can't believe how quickly it came to an end.  Besides some gambling, two drinks and a little miscellaneous spending, I didn't bust the budget.

On Monday I head to Birmingham for the holidays.  I haven't visited my Mom this year nor my father's side of the family, so some catching up is in order.

Thursday, December 11

Bon Voyage: Eight Night All-Inclusive Vacation for Two For $500!

Tomorrow morning we are headed to Miami for our 7 Day Eastern Caribbean cruise.  The cruise visits Nassau, St. Thomas, San Juan and Grand Turk.  For less than $500, we are spending one night in Miami and 7 nights aboard Carnival Glory.  This is the ultimate in frugal travel:

  • We are leaving the car at the house, so no parking fees.
  • We will take the PSTA buses from the house to Tampa's Marion Transit Center ($10).
  • From there, we ride the Megabus to downtown Miami ($36 roundtrip).
  • We spend the night in Miami at a high-end hotel.  It's a mystery shop, and lunch, dinner, breakfast and alcohol are all covered).  I also am paid $50.
  • If we need transportation while in Miami, we have (2) $10 credits on Uber to use.  If not, we'll use it to get home when we arrive back in Tampa.
  • For two, the cruise was $619.  This includes the cruise rate of $174 each ($24.86/day/person) plus taxes and port fees.
  • I have an onboard credit of $117.78.  This includes a $100 shareholder benefit and a random $17.78 credit.  I usually receive these small unexplainable credits when I cruise.  The only explanation I saw in the online forums was that if port fees drop, Carnival refunds the savings as an onboard credit.
That's an all in cost of $665, less my $50 shop fee and $117.78 in credits for a total of $497.22.  Of course, gratuities will add to the cost as will any money I lose while gambling.  

There are some other ways we will be frugal onboard, particularly with mitigating the cost of alcohol:
  • Carnival allows you to bring one bottle of wine and one 12 pack of soda per guest.
  • I reach Gold Status in their VIP program on this cruise, so we will be invited to a cocktail party while on board.
  • The art auctions give free champagne.
  • If I gamble enough, all my drinks in the casino will be free.  Last cruise we did this the first night, so all our drinks were free.  Unfortunately, I lost a good bit of money trying to get the free drinks, so I have to be more careful this time.
  • We typically eat all meals onboard, even on port days.  
I am 100% convinced that for the moment, cruising is the best value one can get for the vacation dollar.  The cruise industry has added so much capacity, coupled with recent snafus that scared some people away from cruising, that costs are artificially low.  It costs less to cruise than the airfare alone would cost to visit any one of these locations.  Then you'd have the cost of your hotel, food and ground transportation on top of that.